DALLAS – Rick Carlisle didn’t need to deliver a pep talk before Game 5. He just pressed play on the video.
“That can’t happen tonight,” Carlisle told his team.
The Mavs responded by roughing up the Spurs, dictating the style of play while rolling to a 103-81 rout that extended their season and sent the series back to San Antonio.
This series isn’t about X’s and O’s. It’s about blood and guts.
The Spurs bullied the Mavs too often – and at too many critical times – during the previous three games. No way were the Mavs going to just sit back and get punked on their home court Tuesday night, which would have resulted in roars about the same ol’ soft Dallas squad.
“Pride was definitely on the line,” said big man Brendan Haywood, who made his presence felt with eight rebounds and four blocked shots in his first start of the playoffs.
Forget about strategy. The main adjustments made by the Mavs – other than benching Erick Dampier for Haywood – came from the toughness department.
“Mostly it was the case of they came with the mental and physical toughness,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, “and our starting group wasn’t very good in either category.”
That’s the simple explanation for the Mavs leading for the final 44 minutes of the game. That describes how Dallas seized control of a win-or-the-end game and, other than an 11-2 run to slash the deficit to seven at halftime, never let the Spurs show real signs of life.
Dallas was determined to attack the basket. They accomplished that goal with 42 points in the paint, their highest mark of the series. That was a dozen more than the Spurs, who had a 42-point advantage in that category through four games.
The Mavs made sure they played at the fast pace in which Jason Kidd flourishes. That doesn’t happen without an impressive, energetic defensive performance. Holding the Spurs to a series-low 36 percent shooting while forcing 18 turnovers certainly qualifies.
And Dallas dominated the glass. They won the rebounding battle by a 52-41 margin and had a 19-9 advantage in second-chance points.
In summary, the Mavs played like a team desperate to avoid an early vacation.
“When our backs are against the wall, we actually react really good and usually come through,” enforcer Eduardo Najera said, pointing to the Mavs’ five-game winning streak at the end of the regular season to seize the West’s No. 2 seed. “We have that sense of urgency now. We know that we have to play physical with these guys.”
Added Dirk Nowitzki: “We’ve got some guys that love to compete and love to win. We lost three tough games in a row. I thought we had our chances, but we definitely responded the right way by playing hard and scrambling.”
Not that the Mavs accomplished their mission, as Carlisle reminded during his postgame press conference. Far from it. All they’ve done is made this series a fight.